As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to reshape our routines, it has also shifted the way our Sisters minister to our neighbors across the river at the Beaver County Jail.
Sister Gerrie Grandpre Sews Masks for Beaver County Jail
Sister Gerrie Grandpre sprang into action to gather donated fabric and sew filter-enabled masks when she learned that those in the Beaver County Jail were in need. She has provided 200 masks to the jail to date. With 40 years of experience in healthcare as a nurse, teacher and pastoral care provider, she knew the jail’s congregate living environment made those who are incarcerated increasingly vulnerable to the highly contagious coronavirus.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Sister Gerrie has spent hours seated at her 70-year-old Singer Featherweight sewing machine, which, she says, “still sews like new,” to stitch a total of 350 masks for housemates, family members, friends and those in the jail. She used an Amazon Christmas gift card to purchase the initial supply of fabric and elastic and began offering to make masks for those in need.
“The nurse in me always wants to leap out to help meet a need,” she says. “Being housebound made me feel helpless until I realized that making masks could meet an important need.”
By mid-April, she had sewn and distributed about 45 masks when she learned that Sisters and staff members at the Motherhouse could use more. Sisters residing at Hope House, which sits behind the Motherhouse, joined the effort by gathering fabric and preparing patterns for the next 75 masks that Sister Gerrie would sew. In May, after learning of the Beaver County Jail’s need for masks, she quickly sought out a new supply of donated fabric and continued selflessly sewing for our neighbors in need.
Sister Gerrie has always found joy in hands-on creative activities like sewing, gardening, baking and photography. As our Congregational photographer turned mask maker, she shares the fruits of her labors – from masks to meaningful imagery – to serve God and neighbor without distinction.
Visits to Letters: Pandemic Shifts Sisters’ Presence
Over the past decade, 10 Sisters and an Associate have coordinated a rotating weekly schedule of in-person visits to the women’s unit of the Beaver County Jail. Prior to the pandemic, they arranged their schedules to ensure one or more Sisters would be available to visit the women each Thursday.
A weekly visit might involve sitting among a group of women in jumpsuits for a circular, group dialogue or quietly talking and praying, hand in hand, with a woman in need of spiritual support. Some conversations last 20 minutes while others continue for two hours.
With the temporary suspension of programs and visitors as a safety precaution, the already disenfranchised and often lonely population had even fewer options for interaction with the outside world, which led to the Sisters’ collaborative letter-writing effort.
Sister Cynthia Comiskey, a licensed clinical social worker who has visited the women at the jail for the past six years, opened the May letter to the female inmates with a reminder of the “need for all of us to be neighbors to one another in new and different ways” during the pandemic. Mindful that many of the women may be separated from their children and grandchildren on Mother’s Day, she centered her letter on turning to Mary, the Mother of God, in times of change, fear and uncertainty.
“Mary is the quintessential Mother, the feminine face of the Holy One, fierce protector and gentle consoler,” she wrote. “She is inspiration, wisdom, the essence of compassion and forgiveness. She reaches into the heart of the wounded world with tangible healing. She is Mother of the Divine, and Mother of us all.”
Sister Cynthia, who encouraged the women to lean on Mary as a companion on their journey, said preparing the letter was difficult because she is accustomed to listening to the women rather than writing to them. She felt it was especially important to continue to be present to those at the jail, however possible, during these uncertain times.
“Since we are unable to visit in-person, the letter writing was a way of staying in touch during these times to let them know that we are thinking about them and praying for them. We wanted them to know that they are not forgotten.”